Healing Story

This week I have been desperately searching for a healing story. To begin with, I dug into my memory for what R S Thomas called something to set against the heart in the long cold.

But the state of remembered tranquility was not enough. I wanted a story, with a beginning a middle and an end. Particularly I wanted a happy ending.

And serendipitously, the search got me back to a place where I really did feel healed. This is how.

Stage One – Reason for the Quest

Female climber clinging to the edge.What made me feel so desperate? Well, partly it’s because I’ve hit a difficult place, editing my work in progress. My heroine is in a bad place and I don’t think the story events are strong enough to get her out of it.

At the moment everything seems to be about writing. Twice this week I’ve had to get up before it’s light to write down a scene or some story element of the next book, banging on the door, demanding to be written. Before it’s light is about 4.15 in June here in London.

And, of course, the other reason I’ve been thinking about – no make that longing for – a healing story is the dreadful news on the media. That is especially, but not exclusively, from Ukraine. How do decent people get to the place where they can hate so much they wipe out a whole city? Who could honestly blame a righteous avenger in those circumstances?

Woman in a bare-shouldered party dress with champagne glass in her hand looks across a night time city scape and smiles.And that made me think about when the Berlin Wall came down.

People ran across from one sector to the other, met friends missed for years, found new generation relatives and hugged strangers.

Round the world there was a general feeling of let’s get this party started.

Stage Two – Unreliable Memory

Only, of course, people didn’t break down the Wall quite as I remember it from the photographs. Did I not know this at the time? Or have I just forgotten?

Momentum began to build on the 9th November 1989, after East German spokesman Gunter Schabowski announced at a Press Conference that every East German citizen would be allowed to travel to the West, effective immediately. The West German Press reported this as if the border were already open.

At once people began to gather on both sides of the Wall. By the end of the day there were huge numbers. Photographs exist of East German guards trying to restrain them.

Crane removes part of the Berlin wall December 1989

A crane removes a section of the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate on 21 December 1989 from Wikipedia.

At 11.30 at night, there was a general rush on the Bornholmer Strasse checkpoint and border guards just gave up trying to check passports.

In 2014 a German movie company released a film about it  from the point of view of the border guards. It’s a comedy! Now, that’s a healing story, all on its own.

Over the course of that night, people began to push through other checkpoints. The Brandenburg Gate, that great symbol of the barrier between the two Germanies, which had been closed since 13th August 1961, didn’t get in on the re-opening act until 22 December 1989.

Stage Three – The Party Starting?

But I couldn’t be wrong about the partying? Surely Pete Seeger went to Berlin and played at a folk festival to celebrate the Wall coming down?

Um, no. It was Denmark. And quite a few years later. Probably 1993. Actually, that was about the time I started going into the Former Soviet Union for the IMF to help with the reconstruction of the economies of various newly independent states. Memory fail again.

Still, Pete Seeger and I were part of the same general move to hopefulness, and that’s pretty cool. Wish I’d known it at the time.

But starting from my erroneous memories, I came across a fabulous account of what actually happened by the wondrous Arlo Guthrie. And it’s much better than I thought.

Stage Four – Freedom Songs

According to Guthrie, there was a feeling of euphoria, “not just in that part of the world but sort of all around the world, y’know. Seemed like things might loosen up a little bit. People could relax or something. Didn’t last long. But it was a wild feelin’.”

Yup. I remember that. Taking books to my interpreter’s parents, ballet gear to her small daughter, cream crackers to an anglophile who hadn’t tasted one for forty years. Lovely feeling. Lasted about as long as it took Putin to get appointed head of the FSB on 25th July 1998.

grassy hill, a kitchen chair stands on the grass with a black jacket draped across its back, an accordion its seat and a balalaika beside it on the grass.

Image by sigual from Pixabay

Meanwhile, in Denmark 1993, Guthrie and Seeger thought they were playing a little folk festival. Then thirty thousand people turned up, from all over the world – for three days of drinking German beer and folk-partying. Pete Seeger led them in, as Guthrie says dryly, “All the songs that used to be important to us a couple decades ago.” Songs like We Shall Overcome and, no doubt, Blowin’ in the Wind. 

And everyone knows the words!

Only then Seeger invites Guthrie to sing – but Seeger had already used all the material that audience might know.

Scrabbling around, Guthrie comes up with – “Here’s one you might know. Made popular by that king of folk singers, Elvis Presley.” And he starts to sing, I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.

Seeger, possibly the world’s greatest Protest singer, frowns.

Audiobooks, explosion of delightBut then something magical happens. Guthrie realises that thirty thousand people are singing along with him. And they know the words.

Then Pete gets up and goes to the microphone. What’s he going to say? Oh, not saying anything. He’s playing the banjo. And – hang on – Pete knows the Elvis song too!

When I stopped laughing, I remembered all those people who either don’t read romantic fiction or do but “confess” to it and call it a guilty pleasure.

And that’s why this is a healing story in at least four ways – unexpected fellowship from the world, unexpected solidarity from a friend, unexpected harmony coming out of a frequently despised popular song and a great laugh.

Here’s where you can see Arlo Guthrie tell it for himself. Some great thoughts about how proud he was of all sorts of things that I would be proud of, too, in his place. And on folk song, as well. And you get pretty damn good music as a bonus. Enjoy!

Stage Five – Feelin’ Good

So that’s me healed. Hope it works for you too. Now, back to editing…

Sophie Weston Author


12 thoughts on “Healing Story

  1. Sarah Mallory

    How lovely! What a great way to lift the spirits on a dismal Highland morning. Thank you, Sophie, with the world being in such a dark place at the moment it’s good to remember the good stuff (and I am sure good stuff still happens and will continue to happen).

    Good luck with your own writing. This has certainly added a spark of inspiration for my own work in progress: I shall include at least some of those healing elements you mention, the “unexpected help” that gets my characters through a tough time.

    1. Sophie Post author

      Glad you enjoyed, it Sarah. I admit I’ve been doing Elvis impression in between washing, this morning. Made me feel a whole lot better.

    1. Sophie Post author

      Glad that you shared the feeling, Joanna. I never sing in public but, if still in the same mood, I will join you in a chorus of Blowin’ in the Wind during a Conference Kitchen evening.

  2. Susan Allan

    What a great piece! It resonated with me because yes, it’s strange how our memories can play tricks on us. We are so convinced our recollection of events is the right one and when we’re shown that actually it isn’t, then it makes all other convictions questionable, too. News around the world is pretty dire and events at home aren’t particularly inspiring either. Thank God for Romance and the places it can take us to heal our souls.

    1. Sophie Post author

      So glad you enjoyed it Susan. Yes, indeed, Romance is a great healer, too. At least in fiction, she added hastily.

  3. Nancy

    Your retelling brought tears to my eyes. What strange people we are. I can’t understand humans at all.

    1. Sophie Post author

      Why, thank you Nancy. (That is, I hope it was in a good way.) Arlo’s story just made me so happy. Absolutely perfect, all the way through.

      Mind you, I’ve loved the man ever since I first heard him sing The City of New Orleans. But that’s another story.

  4. Elizabeth+Hawksley

    I remember watching TV with my daughter as the Berlin Wall was being dismantled before our very eyes – we both felt a sort of dizzy euphoria, as if the entire world was moving to a better place.

    And this memory has somehow woven itself into the TV footage as Nelson Mandela walked to freedom. Another wonderful moment, also with my daughter, full of hope for a better future.

    Alas, those precious moments seem to long ago now. But they happened.

    1. Sophie Post author

      Oh yes, Elizabeth, those moments were so wonderful and stay crystal clear in my memory too. Precious indeed.

      They have been; and will come again,if for other reasons. I have to believe it.

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